MASTER AND PUPIL
him more conventional socially, but after a half-hearted lesson
or two he abandoned the distasteful project. Concerts bored
him and grand opera put him to sleep - when his sisters could
drag him out to either.
Like his good father, Karl was not only an idealist but was
also extremely practical - for a time. In addition to capturing
most of the prizes in purely impractical studies he secured a
paying job, at the age of fifteen, as accountant for a prosperous
female merchant in the ham and butter business.
All of these successes had a disastrous effect on Karl's future.
Old Weierstrass, like many parents, drew the wrong conclusion
from his son's triumphs. He 'reasoned' as follows. Because the
boy has won a cartload of prizes, therefore he must have a good
mind - this much may be admitted; and because he has kept
himself in pocket money by posting the honoured female butter
and ham merchant's books efficiently, therefore he will be a
brilliant bookkeeper. Now what is the acme of all bookkeeping?
Obviously a government nest - in the higher branches of course
- in the Prussian civil service. But to prepare for this exalted
position, a knowledge of the law is desirable hi order to pluck
effectively and to avoid being plucked.
As the grand conclusion of all this logic, paterfamilias Weier-
strass shoved his gifted son, at the age of nineteen, head first into
the University of Bonn to master the chicaneries of commerce
and the quibblings of the law.
Karl had more sense than to attempt either. He devoted his
great bodily strength, his lightriing dexterity, and his keen mind
almost exclusively to fencing and the mellow sociability that is
induced by nightly and liberal indulgence in honest German
beer. What a shocking example for ant-eyed PhJX's who
shrink from a spell of school-teaching lest their rlire lights be
dimmed for ever! But to do what Weierstrass did, and get away
with it, one must have at least a tenth of his constitution and
not less than one tenth of 1 per cent of his brains.
Bonn found Weierstrass unbeatable. His quick eye* his long
reach, his devilish accuracy, and his lightning speed in fencing
made him an opponent to admire but not to touch. As a matter
of historical fact he never was touched: no jagger scar adorned